There seems to be a never ending list of family friendly activities in our nation’s national parks. Many parks offer incredible opportunities for family adventure, from hiking and kayaking, to rock climbing and caving. With so many national park adventures, how does one choose where to begin?
Here are 15 national park adventures you can add to your bucket list. This list celebrates the diversity of national parks and is sure to get you excited about getting outside.
Bucket List National Park Adventures
1. Take a Boat Tour of Everglades National Park
There is no way to better experience the alligator-filled river of grass than from the water while at Everglades National Park. The National Park Service offers narrated boat tours of the famed 10,000 Islands area. Explore a wilderness teeming with birds and reptiles while enjoying a tranquil ride across these endangered wetlands.
Prefer to stick to land? Try biking Shark Valley. The Shark Valley Trail is a 14.5-mile paved loop which is a popular spot for spotting gators right next to (and sometimes on) the trail! You can rent bikes at the visitor center or bring your own.
2. Snorkel in the Warm Waters of Biscayne National Park
Whether your family is discovering a mangrove ecosystem or admiring the fish on a tropical reef, everyone is certain to have a great time in the water at Biscayne National Park.
Downtown Miami may be within sight but Biscayne may as well be a world away. The Biscayne National Park Institute can help you enjoy national park adventures like snorkeling at a shipwreck on the Maritime Heritage Trail, taking a boat cruise out to Boca Chita Key and lighthouse, and sailing the water of Biscayne Bay.
While you are there, check out the top 10 things to do with kids in Miami.
3. Canoe Down River at Congaree National Park
Take the family on a guided canoe trip down Congaree National Park’s Cedar Creek. The free, ranger-guided canoe trips are offered to families with children over the age of 5 through the nation’s largest remaining old-growth floodplain forest.
Imagine peacefully paddling through the some of the tallest trees in the Eastern US with nothing but the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling accompanying you as your canoe glides silently across the water. White-tailed deer, otter, and raccoon sightings are possible.
Spring and fall are the ideal times of year for this adventure becauser the weather is milder, the wildlife is active, and the crowds are smaller.
Explore the Top 10 Things to do with Kids in South Carolina.
4. Bike Down a Volcano at Haleakala National Park
The sunrises at Haleakala National Park are well-known for being epic. As a matter of fact, they are so well known that the park requires sunrise reservations which can be made up to 60 days in advance.
After watching the sun rise, your family can then bike down the volcano at Haleakala National Park. My absolute favorite memory of my trip to Maui was getting up in the middle of the night, taking a van to the top of Haleakala, watching the sunrise, then hopping on a rented bike and coasting down the volcano.
We followed the twisting road as we dropped several thousand feet in elevation until we were back at sea level. The views of the island and the Pacific were amazing and the bike ride was a piece of cake since it was all downhill!
Technically, the bike ride begins at 6,500 feet, just below the national park boundary but the experience does involve time in the park for the sunrise. Some tours include a stop for breakfast at the upcountry town of Makawao.
5. Ride a Mule or White Water Raft in Grand Canyon National Park
Riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is a classic National Park experience. The mule tour operators have a near perfect 100 year safety record so anyone at least 4’7″ and under 200lbs should definitely add this adventure to their bucket list.
For those looking for an adventure that involves plenty of water and adrenaline, rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon should be at the top of your family vacation list.
Trips vary from 1 to 25 days and many involve either a hike up or a hike down the canyon. Some do involve a helicopter ride down to the canyon the avoid the strenuous hike. There is a huge range in the intensity level of these rafting tours as well. Both the mule ride and rafting trips need to be booked well in advance due to their popularity.
6. Climb the Granite Walls of Yosemite National Park
What better place to have your kids learn the finer points of rock climbing than in Yosemite National Park? The Yosemite Mountaineering School has been helping families scale their first slabs of granite for over 40 years. Is there really a better place for family bonding than 60 feet above the ground?
They offer classes for newbies as well as those with experience who want to hone their skills or learn something new like crack climbing.
If rock climbing isn’t you thing you can also sign up for backpacking excursions and guided hikes. We also have a full guide on things to do in Yosemite with kids.
7. Ride Horseback to an Old West Cookout in Yellowstone National Park
Although there are many dining options inside Yellowstone National Park, nothing sounds like more fun than taking a horseback ride out to an Old West Cookout. One or two-hour horseback rides through sagebrush, meadows, and woods take you to the spot where the cookout is held. Steak is served along with all-you-can-eat chuckwagon fare.
If your children are too young to ride (8 is the minimum age) or you have people in your group who aren’t up for horseback ride to the cookout, a stagecoach ride across the sagebrush to the cookout will certainly get everyone in the Old West spirit. Both are offered out of the Roosevelt Horse Corral.
Don’t head to Yellowstone without first reading our full guide to visiting Yellowstone with kids.
8. Enjoy a Carriage Tour of Acadia National Park
Experience the famous roads of Acadia National Park just as John D. Rockefeller Jr. intended, in a carriage. Cross cobblestone bridges, weave in and out of the woods, and enjoy incredible views from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. Can’t you just hear the clip clop of the horses’ hooves just thinking about it?
There are one- and two-hour tours available which circle day mountain and visit some of Mr. Rockefellar’s famed bridges. The season runs from May 27th through October 13th.
Here is our full guide to all the fun things to do in Acadia National Park with kids.
9. View Cuyahoga Valley National Park from a Vintage Train
From the comfort of a vintage train car, experience the stunning natural beauty of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If you are lucky you might spot white tailed deer grazing or one of 200 bird species that call the park home throughout the year.
Be sure to pick up headphones for the audio tour so you can learn the history of this amazing park as it passes by your window.
10. Watch Glaciers Calve at Glacier Bay National Park from Your Cruise Ship
The best way for families to see the glaciers that are Glacier Bay National Park’s namesake, is from the water. Vessels will take passengers through iceberg filled water so they can get up close to those massive rivers of ice. The entire Alaska region is teeming with wildlife including bears, moose, sea lions, orcas, mountain goats, puffins, and wolves so don’t forget your camera!
I have had the pleasure of experiencing Glacier Bay from both a large cruise ship and a smaller cruise ship. The Uncruise Glacier Bay experience was significantly better because we could get closer to the glaciers, and take our time when someone spotted wildlife. We were able to watch bears fish on the shore and orcas racce past us. You can read about our full Uncruise Alaska experience.
11. Go Dog Sledding in Denali National Park
Learn how to mush with North America’s tallest peak as your backdrop. Family trips into Denali National Park on dogsled will create the ultimate winter memories. Dog sledding tours are available from several outfitters within or near the park, with options ranging from short rides to multi-day expeditions. Most tours take place from December to April, when the snow is deep and the temperatures are cold enough for safe dog sledding.
Wildlife encounters are very likely and some of the animals you might see include moose, caribou, lynx, dall sheep, and wolves. Children as young 12 can learn to drive their very own team.
If you visit during the summer, you can still have a sled dog experience and visit the park’s kennels. Sled dogs pull carts in the summer and meeting these energetic and ntense animals is a joy.
12. Learn the Basics of Caving Inside Mammoth Cave National Park
Sure, you can take a regular guided tour of Mammoth Cave National Park but some of us love to be “extra” and do things a little differently.
Learn how to descend down cave walls, climb on your hands and knees under low clearance areas, and squeeze through tight passage ways to view parts of Mammoth Cave National Park that most visitors never see. Wild Cave Tours are offered where visitors navigate through narrow passageways, climb over boulders, and crawl through tight spaces.
Discovery Tours are a unique caving experience that combines education, science, and adventure. Participants work alongside park scientists and researchers to explore remote areas of the cave system and collect data on the park’s ecosystem
For visitors looking for a more immersive and adventurous experience, Lantern Tours are offered where visitors explore the cave with only the light of a kerosene lantern to guide them. These tours offer a unique and intimate experience, allowing visitors to experience the cave as early explorers did.
13. Kayak into Sea Caves at Channel Islands National Park
Enjoy the rugged beauty of Channel Islands National Park from a sea kayak. Spend time as a family paddling through the pristine marine environment surrounding the islands. Beautiful beaches and incredible sea caves are just waiting to be explored. Children as young as five can ride tandem in the kayak with their parents on tours with Channel Islands Adventure Company.
Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Islands and offers some of the best sea kayaking opportunities in the park. Visitors can explore sea caves, kelp forests, and secluded beaches along the island’s rugged coastline. Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor are popular launch points for sea kayakers.
Anacapa Island is the smallest of the Channel Islands, but offers some of the most dramatic sea kayaking experiences in the park. Visitors can paddle through the famous Arch Rock, explore the island’s sea caves, and observe abundant marine wildlife including sea lions and seabirds.
14. See the Park on Horseback Like the President Did at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are plenty of National Parks that offer horseback riding, but seeing badlands of North Dakota the way Theodore Roosevelt did is an experience unto itself.
Ride the trails and explore the prairies at Theodore Roosevelt National Park that inspired our former president to become one of word’s leading conservationists. Wild horse, bison, deer, elk, coyote, eagle, and prairie dog sightings are possible.
One- and two-hour rides are offered by Medora Stables late May through early October. Riders must be at least seven years old.
15. Float Down the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park
Explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the Continental US as you raft or canoe down the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Enjoy towering canyon walls and riparian desert flora and fauna as you drift along the US/Mexican border.
Trips vary in length from half day jaunts to nearly week-long adventures. Colorado Canyon and Santa Elena Canyon are the most popular destinations. Big Bend River Tours offers several different itinerary options.
Colorado Canyon is the only volcanically formed canyon on the river and the day trip on the river is a great option for families. Rapids are splashy but not dangerous. Children as young as four can take this trip.
The dramatic Santa Elena Canyon is a narrow gorge with sheer cliff walls that tower above the river on both sides. Families with children as young as eight are welcome on these trips.
Excited to visit national parks with your kids? We are too! Visit our National Parks with Kids page for extensive coverage, tips & tricks for all our nation’s National Parks.